All This Time

All This Time

Mikki Daughtry

For anyone who’s ever had a Marley.

Never let her go.

—M. D.

For Mikki

—R. L.


The charm bracelet feels heavy in my palm. I’ve looked at it about a thousand times, but I check it again because I know it has to be perfect, able to fix whatever needs fixing. I considered daintier, more delicate bracelets like Kimberly usually wears, but something about this one spoke to me, its silver links solid and sturdy, just like our relationship… most of the time.

A few months ago, when I ordered the bracelet, it was supposed to be a present to celebrate our graduation, not an I’m-sorry-let’s-make-up gift, but Kimberly’s been quiet lately. Distant. Just like she always gets when we’re fighting.

Even though, as far as I know, we aren’t fighting, so I’m not even sure what this should be apologizing for.

I let out a long sigh and look up at my reflection in the hotel bathroom mirror, double-checking that the bathroom stalls are empty. My eyebrows knit together as I run my fingers through my unruly brown hair, trying to smooth it down in the way Kim likes. After a couple of failed attempts, my hair and I give up and I focus my attention on the bracelet one last time.

The sparkling silver charms rattle together as I inspect it, the noise mixing with the muffled sounds of my high school graduation party on the other side of the door. Maybe when she sees it, she’ll finally tell me what’s wrong.

Or, who knows. Maybe she’ll just kiss me and tell me she loves me and the problem has nothing to do with me in the first place.

I lean closer to examine the six tiny charms, one for each year we’ve been together. I lucked out big-time when I found someone on Etsy to help me design them, since I have absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever. This is more than just a bracelet now. It’s our life together.

My thumb gently traces the pieces of our history, a few of the charms winking at me as they catch the pendant lights.

A set of teal-and-white enamel cheerleading pom-poms, nearly identical to the pair Kimberly held as cheer captain the night I asked her to officially be my girlfriend.

A little gold champagne glass, tiny diamond bubbles tracing the rim, a reminder of my elaborate promposal a few months ago. I’d snuck a bottle of champagne from my mom’s cabinet to surprise her. My mom grounded me for all eternity, but it was worth it just to see Kimberly’s eyes light up when I popped the cork.

I pause on the most important charm, resting in the exact center of the bracelet. A silver diary, complete with a real clasp.

Back in middle school, we were studying in the kitchen at her house when she ran upstairs to go to the bathroom. I snuck her pink diary out of her backpack and wrote “I U” on the first three blank pages.

She cried when she found it, tears turning to accusations.

“You read all my secrets?” she shouted, pointing her finger at me with one hand and clutching the thing tight to her chest with the other.

“No,” I said, and swiveled my stool toward her. “I just thought it’d be like… I don’t know. Romantic.”

And then she proceeded to launch herself at me. I let her wrestle me to the floor, because it was thrilling to have that beautiful face so close to mine, her annoyance finally dying down as our eyes locked.

“It was,” she said, and then her lips tentatively met mine.

Our first kiss. My first kiss.

Carefully, I open the tiny charm and turn its delicate silver pages, three in total, spelling out “I U.” We’ll probably always have our little arguments, but we’ll always love each other.

I smile at the empty links of the bracelet, just waiting to be filled with more life and more of the memories we’ll build together. One for each year we’ll spend at UCLA. And after that I’ll get her a new one to fill too.

The bathroom door flies open, smacking loudly into the stopper poking out of the wall. I quickly drop the bracelet back into its velvet box, and the charms clatter together as a group of guys from the basketball team bound inside. There’s a chorus of “Kyle, what’s up, man?” and “Class of 2020, baby!” I grin at all of them and slide the box back into the pocket of my suit jacket. As I do, my fingertips graze the flask of Jack Daniel’s tucked into my waistband, step one in my plan to convince my two best friends to ditch this school-sponsored graduation party to go to our spot at the pond and actually celebrate.

But first… I have to give her this bracelet. I head out the bathroom door, the short hallway giving way to the packed ballroom of this super-bougie hotel.

I step inside and pass under a sea of Ambrose High teal and white balloons, several of which have already broken free and are rolling along the high vaulted ceilings. In the center of the room are hundreds of streamers trailing from a huge banner reading CONGRATULATIONS, GRADUATES!

The noise moves over me in a wave, the excited WE MADE IT! energy pouring out of every corner. I get it. After this last year, I’m beyond ready to move on from here.

I make my way through a bunch of the most random clusters of people. One walk across that stage seems to have broken down all the shit that mattered so much this morning. What sport you played. What grades you got. Who did or didn’t ask you to prom. Wondering why Mr. Louis had it out for you all semester.

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